“Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 5:20) This is the warning of our Lord with respect to our sense of justice, doing what is right and how we should live our lives. What is the kingdom of God? St Paul wrote, “The kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Rom 14:17) Indeed, it is only when we live a righteous life, that we enjoy the peace and joy of the Holy Spirit. That is why St Paul urged the Christians, “seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Col 3:1-3)
Indeed, that was what Elisha did when he became Elijah’s disciple. When Elijah “passed by him and threw his mantle over him, he left the oxen, ran after Elijah, ‘Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.’” He gave up everything to be the servant of Elijah. He “took the yoke of oxen, and slaughtered them; using the equipment from the oxen, he boiled their flesh, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out and followed Elijah, and became his servant.” He gave up his professions to follow Elijah for a greater cause, which was to serve God and His people by preserving them from sin and idolatry so that they would serve the true God.
This is true for the disciples of Jesus and for many priests, religious, and laity who give themselves fully to the proclamation of the gospel. What motivates them to take this course in life? What causes them to give up a bright future, a good career, a luxurious life, a life of worldly freedom in exchange for a life of celibacy, poverty and obedience? (cf Mt 10:8-10) There must be a greater calling and a higher goal that such people are seeking. Indeed, Jesus said, “there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 19:12) They are those who have fallen in love with Jesus and so filled with His love, joy and peace that they want to share with others what they have encountered. St John wrote, “we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” (1 Jn 1:3f) In other words, they are seeking a more fulfilling life than just making money, being famous and having power in the world.
This is the heart of Jesus’ teaching in the gospel. We must examine and purify our motives in what we do. He said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Mt 6:19-21) We get rewarded according to our expectations. If our goals are of lesser value, then we will simply get what we seek. Jesus said to His disciples: “Be careful not to parade your good deeds before men to attract their notice; by doing this you will lose all reward from your Father in heaven.” Jesus illustrates this truth with the examples of fasting, almsgiving and praying. After explaining the lowly motives of the scribes and Pharisees for practising such forms of spirituality, He remarked, three times, “I tell you solemnly, they have had their reward.” Indeed, if we give alms in order to win men’s admiration, that is the only reward we get. Many people give and announce to the whole world their generosity. They want the world to speak well of them and to glorify them. Or when we pray to let people see how holy and pious we are, that is about all we get. So if we fast to impress others, this is our reward.
But such rewards of the world are empty. The praises and glory of the world cannot last and they do not change us from within. Today, they glorify us but if we make a mistake tomorrow, they will not only dump us but condemn us. Many praise us also because they are self-serving. They want to get something from us. That is why money, fame and power in themselves cannot bring happiness, joy and peace. With riches, life becomes more complex and our needs increase. We become slaves to a luxurious life and forget the joys of a simple life. When we are powerful, many who are serving us are seeking to fight for our position. This explains why in the corporate and political world, and even in the religious world, the struggle for power and control is real. We create enemies and competitors. To think that it is a blessing to be famous and to have the world know who we are, is silly because it means we have lost our privacy and our freedom to do what we want and go where we like. In truth, we become very lonely because we do not know who our real friends are and those who truly love us and not our office, position and money.
That is why we must do everything with a higher motive and driven by heavenly things, namely, peace, love and joy in the Holy Spirit. We must seek authentic love and meaning. As Jesus said, when we give alms, the joy is not that others notice us, but that we share in the capacity of God to give as Jesus did because “though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” (2 Cor 8:9) When we give selflessly without condition and expectation of reward, that giving is genuine and we feel the joy of God that no one can give to us. When we do something for others with the intention of benefiting ourselves, this is not giving but merely an exchange. When we fast, it must not be a show to others how pious and disciplined we are; rather, it should be a means to humble ourselves before God, sharing in His suffering, identifying with the poor and hungry, being disposed for prayer as an act of repentance and atonement for our sins and to be open for His grace to fill us. Such motives are certainly more helpful to our lives than peoples’ admiration. Finally, when we pray, what is even greater than impressing people is our personal relationship with God; being filled with His love, inspired by His words and consoled by His wisdom and compassion. It is being filled with the spirit of thanksgiving and praise that brings the presence of God into our hearts. Such motives are certainly more satisfying than people’s empty praises.
Elisha is a good model of one who sought the higher things of life. Before Elijah departed from this earth, he requested to “inherit a double share of your spirit.” He saw how Elijah lived his life in total fidelity to God and His people. He witnessed how Elijah performed miracles to demonstrate the power of God and the need to be faithful to His covenant. Elisha too wanted to share in his prophetic ministry because he knew that this is where life, meaning and joy was to be found. Indeed, when we seek God and the good of His people as Elisha and Elijah did, we find perfect peace and joy. We have fewer worries and our worries are temporary because we know that our lives are in the hands of God. This was what Elijah said, “Your request is a difficult one. If you see me while I am being taken from you, it shall be as you ask; if not, it will not be so.” We can only surrender our lives and the work of our hands to God. Because we do not have any selfish ambition on our part, we do not have to fight with people for glory, power and riches. We only want to glorify God like Mary who said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” (cf Lk 1:46-49) We need not be bothered by accolades and what people say.
Today, we need to have more role models like Elijah to inspire others to give up their lives for the service of God and His people. We have enough of self-serving leaders like the Jewish leaders during the time of Jesus. Such leaders are hypocrites because they have no intention of doing what they preach because their hearts are not with God and His people. This is quite different from those of us who are seeking to do God’s will sincerely. Even if we are not perfect, we will share in God’s love, joy and mercy because we are sincere. So long God is pleased with us and we love Him and His people, we are at peace.